I was at the annual reunion of my mother’s family today. Any Sunday afternoon in the South, when you drive by a church fellowship hall or community clubhouse and you see cars in the parking lot, you can almost take it to the bank that a family reunion is going on. Just stop on in. The chances are really good that you’ll be welcomed and well-fed. There aren’t any strangers around here, just friends we haven’t met yet.
I see that note going around Facebook all the time, that you’re proud to be from the South where the tea is sweet, the people still say yes ma’am, no ma’am, thank you very much, and y’all come back. That’s where I come from.
I am proud of where I came from, and I think it has had a big influence on my life, and my work ethic. My mother was raised in dirt-poor Appalachian poverty. Her parents were sharecropping farmers, and the nicest and most generous people I ever met. If they were down to their last two biscuits, they’d give you one. They worked from sunup to sundown. They didn’t have anything, but they were rich in spirit. I think it’s a testimony that when my grandpa died, over 1300 people signed the guest book at his funeral. Imagine that…1300 people coming to mourn a sharecropping farmer.
Most days, I work from sunup to sundown…not because I have to in order to survive, the way my grandparents did, but because I’m a workaholic. I feel driven. I feel like I’m 52 years old, there’s still a lot of stuff I want to accomplish, and “daylight’s burning,” as my Granny would say.
Regardless of that, I have it so easy compared to the life they led. 12 hours at my desk can’t compare to 12 hours of plowing the field with a mule, milking the cows, growing and preserving all their own food, cooking three meals a day on a woodstove, washing clothes in a big cast iron wash pot over a fire out in the yard, drawing water from the well. I remember all those things. I plainly remember the day they got indoor plumbing in their house.
All I have to do is show up at the office, spend most of the day writing and filing, and do a few loads of laundry in my nice automatic machine. They never owned a car, and regularly walked the ten miles from their house to town and back . I jump in my car and go and cuss if there’s a traffic jam.
I’ve had a privileged life compared to what my mother had. She’s 72, and still working. She has retired three times and just can’t sit around. Like her parents before her, when she sees someone who needs help, she doesn’t wait to be asked. She just jumps in.
When I die, I don’t care about having my accomplishments listed. The people who matter to me already know about them. I hope my shortcomings aren’t listed, either; the people who matter to me already know about those, too. I’d just like to go out known as someone who tried to help people along their way. That’s where I come from.
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